Friday, March 14, 2008

Maximizing the Benefits of Employee Recognition Programs

Organizations often refer to employees as their "greatest asset," but what does this really mean? If employees are so valuable, what is the organization doing to ensure that employees know it? This article reviews issues to be mindful of when it comes to recognizing your employees, offers tips and describes ways your organization can reap the benefits of a well-planned and executed recognition program.

The Changing Work Environment
Today's employees recognize that job stability is not a given, just as organizations understand how important it is to attract and retain talented employees. Gone are the days when employees expect to work for the same employer for decades. Most employees are not loyal in the traditional sense, but view their job as a conduit to their next career move. Whether that move is internal and the talent stays in-house, or external, which can be costly to the employer, depends largely on what the organization does to keep the employee engaged.
Historically, formal recognition programs have rewarded employees for length of employment, or provided the typical "Employee of the Month" certificate for going above and beyond. Although formal recognition programs that fit well with an organization' s culture can increase employees' job satisfaction, motivation and feelings of value, incorporating informal recognition, in a way that is personal, frequent and meaningful to the employee, can be even more effective. Informal recognition, when done correctly, is often highly valued by employees because it is sincere and tailored to the individual, with the added benefit to the organization of requiring minimal resources.
In addition to the shift in the employee-employer relationship, changes in when, where and how work is done also have implications for the way employers recognize and support their workforce. Today's workforce is increasingly spread out around the globe, with technology enabling employees to telecommute and work from geographically diverse locations. Managers should take care not to let high-tech tools detract from their ability to build relationships with employees and need to be cognizant of the inherent value derived from human interaction. When it comes to the virtual workforce, managers may be limited in terms of face-to-face contact, but can take full advantage of the resources at their fingertips to deliver rewards and recognition to employees.
Recognition is a human need and since it can take many different forms, it is essential to reach out and learn what type of recognition will be most relevant to each individual. This is most easily accomplished by simply asking them what they want. Figuring out the best ways to recognize employees in today's diverse, multigenerational workforce can make or break your organization' s recognition program, so read on for some tips and suggestions.

Tips for Success
· Just ask. Often the simplest and most efficient way to find out what is rewarding to employees is to just ask them. Most employees will not be offended if you are genuinely interested in learning the answer. Try broaching this topic in a meeting or having employees jot down a few things they find personally rewarding on a piece of paper.
· Buy-in. Most important to the success of any program is buy-in from both employees and management. This is especially true for informal recognition programs, where indifference on the part of either party can essentially make the recognition meaningless.
· The value factor. Employees have different wants and needs, so whatever the type of recognition or reward, it is imperative that it is valued by the employee receiving it. Employees are all unique – figure out what makes them tick before buying into an incentive program that might not produce the intended results.
· Rewards should be equitable. Be sure your reward program is implemented fairly and that the level of reward is based on an accepted measure of performance. Employees should perceive a reward for playing a central role in a six-month project that lands a multi-million dollar contract as much more significant than the reward for nominal participation in another short-term project.
· Don't spoil a recognition effort with your own agenda. Deliver recognition in a heartfelt manner and with true intentions. Be careful not to come across as being artificial or manipulative. Keep in mind that it is not always the message you think you are communicating – it's how the employee perceives it that often makes or breaks your recognition efforts.
· An excuse to get to know your employees better. You might approach selecting the type of recognition to give employees the same way you would buy gifts for friends and family. Identify what each person would value most, assess the feasibility and pocketbook factor, and then select the reward you think they would most like to receive.
· Consider individual interests and preferences. Do employees prefer formal or informal forms of recognition? Maybe a little bit of both? Mix it up – that office party is nice, but tickets to the next home game as a way to say thanks for stepping up and taking that out of town assignment could be more valuable to an employee who loves baseball.
· Start small. When it comes to informal rewards, less can be more. You might begin by providing each individual employee with a small treat of their choice - coffee anyone? Often, just ten minutes of shooting the breeze with the boss can make an employee feel special and valued.
· Multinational issues. Be aware of the cultural preferences and communication styles of your workforce. One approach to structuring a culturally comprehensive and sensitive recognition program is to build an infrastructure that is aligned with the organization' s culture and then customize the specifics to each individual culture or location, as necessary, with input from local employees and management.
· The need for recognition transcends age. The need to feel competent is a powerful intrinsic motivator – people of all ages want to feel like what they do matters, so when they do something noteworthy, make sure you let them know. A simple thank-you that includes the specific tasks or behaviors can be effective, as can a handwritten note on a post-it left on the employee's desk – the point is to be sincere in your efforts.
· Don't rely on stereotypes. In other words, don't assume that all Gen X employees place the same value on a particular reward. All employees, regardless of the age group or generational designation, have different values and the best way to find out what individuals like is to pay attention or ask.
· Don't be afraid to reach out. When it comes to ensuring that your virtual workforce feels valued, you may have to get creative and think unconventionally. Remember that employees who work off-site need as much recognition as those whom you see every day. Take advantage of email card services and other ways to stay in touch and provide recognition electronically.
· Virtual recognition. There are types of recognition that employees who work off-site may appreciate more than employees who report to the office. A day off might not be as valuable to an employee who works from home and already accrues enough vacation time, but a company t-shirt or mug with your logo on it might help the virtual employee feel more like part of the team.
· Electronic rewards. Employees who work off-site might be happier to receive a reward, such as a gift certificate, that is sent electronically, as opposed to getting it a few days later than the rest of team through the mail. By sending via email, you have the flexibility of giving the reward immediately.
The bottom line is that recognition should make employees feel like their hard work was worth the effort. In order for recognition to be most effective, it needs to be immediate, specific, heartfelt and performance- based. Today's workforce is dynamic and encompasses many individual differences - recognition efforts should be as dynamic as the employees you're recognizing. Keep your most valuable assets, your employees, from searching out greener pastures by truly letting them know just how much you appreciate them.

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